CANNABIS POSSESSION REMAINS A CRIME Liberals Leave Decriminalization Bill To Die A bill to decriminalize marijuana has gone up in smoke, failing for the second time in six months and prompting criticism the Martin government deliberately killed the proposal. "As we speak, it doesn't look too good," Mario Lague, a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office, said as the House of Commons wrapped up its last voting day before an anticipated election call this month. Critics contend the Liberals lacked the political will to pass the controversial legislation proposing to decriminalize possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana, making it an offence punishable with a fine rather than a criminal record. The bill also called for harsher penalties against marijuana grow operations. The legislation had been languishing in limbo for two months after the Conservatives, trying to block passage, introduced amendments during Parliamentary debate. The Liberals then moved on to legislation they considered more pressing -- including redrawing electoral boundaries, reforming political donations and providing AIDS drugs for Africa -- leaving the bill to die. "They never really intended to go with it," said Conservative MP Randy White. "If a majority government in this country wants to make a bill go through, that's a piece of cake." The bill has been fiercely criticized by groups who say that what Canada really needs is a new national drug strategy to deal with the country's multibillion-dollar illicit drug problem. The latest incarnation of marijuana legislation was proposed in February, reviving a Jean Chretien bill introduced last spring. Its death means the next Parliament will have to start all over again on an issue that has been debated for more than 30 years. The House of Commons is on a break next week and Prime Minister Paul Martin is expected to call an election the following weekend, so yesterday was believed to be the last day to vote on legislation. Several other government bills have also failed, including whistleblower legislation that would protect public servants who report government misdeeds, a law to enable police to take saliva, blood and hair samples from people suspected of driving while impaired by drugs, and another to expand a data ban k that stores the DNA samples of people who have committed serious crimes. Legislation to toughen laws against child pornography collectors, ocean polluters and people who are cruel to animals are all on their deathbed in the Senate, which is not expected to sit next week. Mr. Lague said Mr. Martin still supports marijuana decriminalization and the Liberal government intends to introduce another bill if it wins the election. "I think the prime minister has been very clear on many occasions on what he thought of the bill," said Mr. Lague. "He stated his position quite clearly about having problems with somebody having a criminal record for life for being caught with a small quantity." Mr. Martin has suggested, however, that the amount of marijuana to escape criminal penalties should be lowered. The U.S. has vocally opposed Canada's move toward decriminalization, saying it would mean more potent Canadian marijuana moving south. But the bill also thrust Canada into the international spotlight on other fronts, drawing praise from The Economist, a leading international magazine, that the country is becoming "rather cool."